I recently participated in FLOSS Usability Sprint V, an event run by the FLOSS Usability organization to foster better usability in open-source software, and to encourage collaboration between usability/design/UX practitioners and the free/libre/open-source community.
Open-source software in general is sadly not known for its stellar usability, so this sort of event is really important -- both for the short-term aim of improving our UIs, and the long-term aim of developing some awareness of basic usability tenets in the open-source community.
Developers need to know that design and usability are not simply window-dressing, and they're not something you glue on after the fact. Attention to usability needs to be built right into the development process from the get-go -- including filing bugs about usability, and educating developers about basic usability principles.
The event was hosted by Google, and this was my first trip to the Google campus. I can see why so many people love working there. Google really made sure things went smoothly for us, and it was a great environment for collaboration and discussion.
The Mozilla Corporation hosted some beer-and-food happy hours that gave us a chance to continue discussions in a bit more informal atmosphere. It's always amazing to me how much of a difference that kind of face-to-face contact makes when so much of your communication happens with people over the phone or in text.
We were paired up with some really nice folks from the Oracle Usability Group, who were actually kind enough to let us have some use of their Usability Lab for testing Chandler Server's Web UI.
The Oracle guys were super-nice, and we had a ton of fruitful interaction with them. We got some good hard data about which parts of the UI work, and which parts don't -- and some ideas for improvement in a lot of different areas.
We focused on a particularly problematic piece of the Web UI -- calendar overlays, which are really a complicated design problem to solve. We whiteboarded a bunch of different approaches with the aim of trying to make things clearer than the design we currently have. You can see graphics of all the whiteboard designs here.
I ended up coding some prototypes that demonstrate the design concepts we came up with:
- The existing design, for contrast.
- A treatment using only standard formelements,
- A treatment using a custom icon to indicate visiblity of the calendar layers
Jeffrey Harris (who is essentially my equivalent on the Chandler Desktop application) and I put the feedback from the Sprint up on a wiki page on the Chandler wiki. The design ideas and input were really great, and I'm looking forward to incorporating them into our design for the Web UI.